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Springtime Hero: The Magical and Healing Powers of Cleavers

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Amidst the sun-soaked expanses, one can often encounter the charming and ubiquitous cleavers (Galium aparine), a roaming seed bearer known as a “stick-tight.”

These gentle hitchhikers have earned the “velcro plant” moniker among children for their unique ability to effortlessly cling onto clothing upon contact.

While other prickly “stick-tights” like burdock or cocklebur can be painfully invasive, cleavers present a softer, more pleasant character.

Traditionally, cleavers had many uses beyond their status as playful plants. They were once used as bedding material, giving rise to the nickname “bedstraw.” According to lore, even the Virgin Mary used cleavers as bedding material to prepare the manger for baby Jesus.

Additionally, the stems of this versatile plant were fashioned into mats that doubled as a filter for fresh milk, allowing for an infusion of the plant’s healthful properties. This practice continues in certain parts of Sweden, where cleavers remain a prized cultural asset.

With its beneficial effects on the lymphatic system, cleavers offer more than just a whimsical and amiable presence.

Though often overlooked in favor of more conventional medicinal remedies, foraging and utilizing cleavers can be a potent tool for those seeking to support their overall health and well-being.

How to identify

Behold the captivating cleavers, whose leaves resemble a bottle brush, easily identifiable by their stiff, distinct shape.

Studying their growth pattern is a gratifying experience, as their habits are remarkably uniform and consistent. From early leaves to later ones, their form remains the same, with the only difference being size and length.

How to identify Cleavers
Photo: Diego Bonetto

In the springtime, the cleavers’ vibrant green color is a constant presence that extends to their pale, understated roots.

With support from nearby grasses or forbs, mature plants can reach heights of over three feet, although they prefer to be “neighbor-clingers” rather than trellising climbers.

They can also crawl along the ground, forming dense clusters for perfect bedding, hence their moniker “bedstraw.”

Their stickiness makes identifying cleavers easy, courtesy of tiny hooks covering their surface. Otherwise, watch out for whorls of up to eight narrow leaves, sprawling stems, and delicate white flowers.

The small, rounded fruits boast hooks, adding to the plant’s charm. The cleavers’ beauty and allure are undeniable, from their distinctive features to their captivating growth patterns.

Cleavers Benefits

Cleavers, a tenacious little herb that appears in the spring, is the ultimate natural detoxifying agent.

Its bristly texture, similar to that of a scratchy sponge or cat’s tongue, makes it an excellent internal “bottle brush” for our lymphatic system, which plays a vital role in helping the body cleanse itself.

Cleavers can help us wash away any seasonal sluggishness by lubricating our joints and revving up our internal fluid pumps as we transition from slow winter activities.

Cleavers Benefits
Photo: Verywell Health

The benefits of cleavers are vast and varied. Historically, its seeds were roasted and ground to make a coffee-like tea, and it was used as a cleaning agent for cooking pots and pans. Cleavers gained a reputation as miracle herbs that could heal almost any ailment.

In modern times, we know that cleavers are particularly effective in cleansing the lymph nodes and blood, which makes them an excellent remedy for swollen glands, tonsillitis, and respiratory infections.

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Cleavers are also helpful in treating urinary or bladder infections, rheumatism, and arthritis and even neutralizing acid perspiration when used as an underarm lotion. Its rich silica content makes it ideal for healthy skin, hair, nails, teeth, and connective tissues.

Cleavers are an effective poultice for treating wounds, burns, eczema, acne, psoriasis, rashes, and dandruff. The fresh juice or infusion is lovely as a face wash for treating dry, itchy skin.

Cleavers are known to enhance the function of the lymphatic system, allowing it to flush out toxins, decrease congestion, and reduce swelling.

This action, in turn, boosts the immune system, making it an ideal herb for springtime when sluggish immune systems need a boost.

Cleavers also support kidney health by flushing waste, toxins, and excess fluid. It is an ideal natural remedy for urinary tract infections due to its soothing and demulcent action.

It stimulates bile production and prevents bile ducts from becoming clogged, making it also beneficial for liver health.

Cleavers are a natural, versatile herb with many health benefits. As with any herbal remedy, speaking with a healthcare provider before using cleavers is essential, especially if you have a pre-existing kidney condition.

But for those looking for a gentle and effective way to boost their overall health, cleavers may just be the springtime hero they’ve been searching for.

Related post: Top 14 Herbs To Grow For Your Flock

The Rich Traditional Uses and Preparation Methods of Cleavers

Cleavers, a ubiquitous herb found worldwide, boasts an illustrious history of traditional use. Native American tribes utilized it to support kidney health and as a cure for gonorrhea. Remarkably, it was also sometimes used by women to prevent pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Traditional Chinese Medicine finds application as an anti-inflammatory agent and a lymphatic system booster, helping to move stagnation and acting as a diuretic.

If you’re looking to incorporate cleavers into your daily routine, there are various ways. For instance, you can make a delicious herbal tea by pouring boiling water over 2-3 teaspoonfuls of cleavers and allowing it to infuse for 10-15 minutes.

Drink this concoction 2-3 times a day for optimal benefits. Alternatively, you can take a cleavers tincture, ingesting up to 2-4ml, up to 3 times a day, or as advised by a herbal practitioner.

Consider gathering the fresh plant and packing as many leaves as possible into a tightly-sealed jar to make the most of your cleavers. Pour some high-quality water, refrigerate it overnight, and drink the entire jar the following day.

While a gallon of fresh cleavers is ideal, any quantity will do. Remember to consume as much water as possible after ingesting the cleavers preparation, which will contribute to flushing, allowing the infusion to thoroughly saturate your system.

This method is beneficial after an illness or as part of routine maintenance.

Rich Traditional Uses and Preparation Methods of Cleavers
Photo: The Foraged Foodie

While some opt for a tincture or dried leaves, a fresh cleavers infusion is best. Using more water than alcohol (about 25% alcohol is sufficient to preserve) allows more water-soluble components to seep into the preparation.

And while a cleavers succus made by juicing the leaves is possible, it may prove challenging to chop the leaves finely enough for a blender.

It’s worth noting that dried cleavers may be less potent than fresh ones, so be sure to account for this when choosing your preparation method. Ultimately, incorporating cleavers into your daily routine can offer numerous benefits, making it well worth exploring.

Harvesting Cleavers for Optimal Health Benefits

Embrace the bounty of nature by harvesting Cleavers with care and mindfulness. These fast-growing plants are at their prime in springtime, shooting up with remarkable speed.

Don’t wait too long to gather them, as they will soon be producing seeds and turning yellow. Depending on your climate and terrain, the first shoots may also sow another crop for summer.

Look for them in sunny locations, where they effortlessly intermingle with other weeds. Cleaver flowers are small and delicate, nestled in the crannies of stems, and easily missed. Harvest the entire plant before the flowers become seeds, leaving plenty to resow.

Take a moment to appreciate these plants’ abundance and ability to promote health and well-being both inside and outside our bodies. By harvesting Cleavers with intention and gratitude, you can fully tap into their potential benefits.

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